Kilkenny have this racket all tied up


TV VIEW:The Cats are like the Martina Navratilova of hurling, brilliant but too many of their games finish as no contests, writes MARY HANNIGAN

COME FULL-TIME yesterday, Ger Loughnane shared with us a premonition he’d had a decade and a bit ago, one that he revealed wasn’t half as harrowing as what turned out to be.

“I was thinking back to the autumn of 1998 when I heard that Brian Cody was appointed manager of Kilkenny,” he reminisced. “The one comment I had was ‘we’re all in trouble now’ . . . but I didn’t realise we were in for this kind of trouble.”

Indeed, just the nine All-Ireland titles later. That’s a whole heap of trouble for those non-Kilkenny-ites hoping to pick up more than a sporadic Liam MacCarthy in that time.

Between 1994 and 1999, for example, Cork, Offaly, Clare and Wexford, you might recall, took their turns, but it’s largely been black and amber avarice ever since, with just the odd interruption.

“You’d be hoping now that maybe he would take time out,” said Corkonian Tomás Mulcahy of the Cody man, “maybe to be cutting the lawn, or take up a bit of golf, or train the Kilkenny footballers for a change, or something like that. This is never-ending stuff.”

The panel had, to a man, foreseen a Kilkenny triumph, but they all reckoned it’d be a hell-for-leather far-too-close-to-call affair, all of them enthused about the replay ahead, despite the fact they’d assumed they’d be sipping cocktails on a Caribbean beach by now after a long and rarely hot summer.

“A bonus payment in September,” Michael Lyster consoled them, so that perked them up, Lyster going on to say hello to a bunch of Galway people in Australia who’d come home for the first final, but had to return under down before anyone got their paws on Liam. It was like Larry Gogan doing requests.

Team news. James Skehill was in goal for Galway, despite dislocating his shoulder earlier in the week, Ger not convinced he’d be fit for the occasion, later suggesting you’d want to be “Lazarus” to recover in time from a setback of that nature.

And Walter Walsh making his championship debut for Kilkenny in, like, an All-Ireland final? Hmm. Way too much to ask of a young fella, surely? A sparkling 1-3 later? Ah, go on then.

“I’d say the hair dryer has been going in Kilkenny the last three weeks,” said Tomás, suggesting Cody had Fergusonised his men since the drawn game, but out on the pitch Cyril Farrell, chatting with Darragh Moloney, was confident enough that Galway would blow Kilkenny and their hair-dos in to kingdom come.

Match-time and Ger Canning told us the “floodlights are on and the sun is out”, suggesting the GAA aren’t much in to this energy-conserving lark, and there wasn’t much evidence of David Burke being in to energy-conserving either when he scored two goals in a giddy couple of minutes for Galway.

We were hardly in to the second line of Kilkenny’s obituary when Richie Power did his goal-busting thing, the blizzard of goals leaving all concerned just a tad dizzy.

Half-time and Galway had scored divil a point from play, but Ger Loughnane comforted their supporters by telling them there was “no reason to panic . . . yet.”

(Competition time. “You could be heading off to one of the world’s most amazing cities,” Michael told us, Tomás’s face saying, “Sure, I live in Cork already, like.”)

Second half. Oh Lord. Galway were in trouble now . . . but they didn’t realise they were in for this kind of trouble.

You know, in many senses Kilkenny are the Martina Navratilova of our day. Remember? We used to say ‘yeah, yeah, you’re brill, but . . . tell us something we don’t know.” And we half-pined for someone to take her on, so that the contest wouldn’t be done and dusted by half-ish time. It wasn’t, need it be said, Martina’s fault that she was largely unbeatable at her peak, but, still.

“They’re not loved, but they’re admired,” said Loughnane at full-time, reckoning Kilkenny were Martina-esque, and it’s true, they’re so ridiculously good we very probably won’t appreciate them until they’ve moved on.

Michael Duignan, meanwhile, reminded us of the serious injuries Henry Shefflin has endured through his career, of the shoulder and – twice – cruciate ligament variety, leaving you wondering if the fella would have achieved anything of note if he’d stayed fit. Just the nine medals.

Shefflin could probably have concurred with Nicolas Colsaerts’ summing up of his Ryder Cup (Day One) experience: “There are no tools you can use out there. You’ve just got to go with what you have in your pants.”

More than plenty, as it proved.

All the rest can hope is that Henry and Brian opt now to take up cutting the lawn or playing golf. If they don’t, well, see you next September for the drive for . . . ten.

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